The Companionship of Saints

In taking part in this meal, we are the Lord’s companions. The word companion originally meant to share bread together with someone. The com means together, and panis is the word for bread. We are the Lord’s companions.

This sounds wonderful to us, but there is a hitch. Everyone else who comes to this Table is His companion also, and it follows from this that we are companions one to another. If we walk in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another. In other words, our companionship with one another is dependent upon our companionship with the Lord. Moreover, it flows necessarily from that first companionship. If we love Jesus Christ, whom we have not seen with our eyes, then we must love all His brothers and sisters, whom we have seen with our eyes.

This includes everyone in your family, whether husband, wife, children, or parents, everyone in your row, in your section, in this congregation, in the congregation of our sister church, in this town, everyone throughout the world, and everyone throughout the history of the Church. We believe, as we say every week, in the communion of saints. Let us confess it gladly.

The Mere Fact of Worship

The efficacy of worship goes far beyond the intentions of the worshippers. It is fitting and proper that all worshippers of the triune God fix this in their minds. We are worshipping God in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. We are doing so in faith, and are offering up a right worship of God, a worship that is received by Him as justified and perfect.

This means many things, but among them it means that the simple fact of this worship being rendered presents a threat to all our local principalities and powers who still want to cling to their unbelief. But the church is not a human agency, and cannot be reduced to one. Every time we worship God, we glorify His name in the heavens, where we are assembled, and He in consequence glorifies His name on earth, where we live. This means that every time we assemble we are taking another swing with the battering ram, hammering at the gates of unbelief. Faith that is aware of this process is able to swing with enthusiasm. Anyone who does not see this happening in the world around us is simply not paying attention. The wood is already splintering.

This worship has a reformational impact within the covenant people of God as well. There are believers who are unsettled by all this, and want to leave well enough alone. They instinctively understand the potency of this undertaking and pull back for a variety of stated reasons, but the central reason is to get us to stop our siege. There are unfortunately Christians who desperately to believe that worship can be made into an impotent thing, some sort of playing at church.

But whether we have faith or not, worship remains what it is. God cannot deny Himself. But if we have faith, worship is the means of accomplishing mighty, visible things—on earth, as well as in heaven.

Co-Signing

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

Growing Dominion, Part 103

“A man void of understanding striketh hands, and becometh surety in the presence of his friend” (Prov. 17:18).

The book of Proverbs famously takes dim view of co-signing a note. But before we absolutize this, we should take note of the context. A man void of understanding strikes hand (in a bargain). A man void of understanding co-signs a note in the presence of his friend. This is a world of hale, hearty laughter, clapping one another on the back, and helping one another buy four-wheel drive pick-ups that nineteen-year-old boys ought not to have. The context here is one of impulse commitments, and when a group of friends do this kind of thing, a by-standing idiot is often swept into the mix. Don’t do that, Solomon tells us.

The same kind of trouble can occur when this kind of context is not immediately present, and so we should not conclude that outside this context co-signing a note is always wise. It is frequently foolish, regardless of the context. But when someone loans something they are willing to give, this is certainly a scriptural thing to do. I think of an older, established couple co-signing a note to get their (very responsible) kids into their first home. Here the context is different.

Aesthetic Puritanism

“Even in the plastic arts, then, the Puritans were willing to record the truth as they saw it and to appreciate the beauty of that record. On gravestones, in meeting houses, and in the works of over two hundred poets, they were not, in Moses Coit Tyler’s words, ‘at war with nearly every form of the beautiful.’ Their practice clearly does not reflect a belief ‘that there was an inappeasable feud between religion and art'” (Daly, p. 8).

Good Will on the First Page

“There is no work in which holes can’t be picked; no work that can succeed without a preliminary act of good will on the part of the reader” (C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism, p. 116).

Life in the Provinces

“If a man is redeemed by Christ, then he is a member of this one Church — a Church founded in God’s decree before time existed, and by the grace of God manifested in history as long as sinful heirs of Adam have lived. Enter the modern rootless evangelical, who, with a bemused detachment, is able to tell you only that the church he attends was founded in the late fifties by a gifted biblical expositor, an honors graduate of Bison Breath Bible College. Historically isolated from other periods of the Church, this church member’s faith is very much anchored to the present moment and his own present needs and concerns. For many modern evangelicals, this historical provincialism is perfectly acceptable to them; they enjoy life in the provinces” (Mother Kirk, p. 27).

The Victim is Always Ignored

“Job constantly reverts to the community’s role in what has happened to him, but — and this is what is mysterious — he does not succeed in making his commentators, outside the text, understand him any better than those who question him within the text . . . No one takes any notice of what he says” (Girard, Job: The Victim of His People, p. 7).

Church of England in Exile

I want to begin by praising N.T. Wright, but I want to do so in order to critique the Church of England, along with Dr. Wright’s apparent approach to her.

In Jesus and the Victory of God, Wright has a wonderful section where he shows that forgiveness of sins needs to be understood in a manner that is much broader than the mere cleansing of an individual’s sins. This is quite true, and to head off a falsehood that might be asserted here at Wright’s expense, he is not dispensing with the need for individual forgiveness. He is simply pointing out that in certain key places Scripture equates forgiveness of sin with return from exile. Not only does he make this point, he then quotes a raft of Bible verses that say essentially the same thing (JVG, pp. 268ff). As Wright puts it, “Forgiveness of sins is another way of saying ‘return from exile.'” As Jeremiah puts it, “The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter Zion, is accomplished; He will keep you in exile no longer” (Lam. 4:22). See also Jer. 31:31-34, Jer. 33:4-11, Ezek. 36:24-26, 33, Ezek. 37:21-23, and multiple places in Isaiah. So then, Wright argues (scripturally) that forgiveness of sin is a concept that is woven together with return from exile. And he argues scripturally that this a street on which the traffic goes both ways. “Since covenant renewal means the reversal of exile, and since exile was the punishment for sin, covenant renewal/return from exile means that Israel’s sins have been forgiven — and vice versa” (p. 269). Note that vice versa.

At this point all the TR suspicions of N.T. Wright come out to play, and people start worrying (or worse, asserting) that Wright is undermining the need for individual conversion, cleansing and forgiveness. The fact that this is a false criticism obscures the fact that there is another criticism, far more potent, and it is resting right on the surface of what Wright is saying here.

Let me use an example right out of the current issue of First Things. Those good folks have reported that the Archbishop’s Council (a sort of CoE cabinet) has issued some guidelines (that carry the authority and approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams). These guideliness caution against the use of the words “Lord,” “He,” or “Father” when referring to God. Failure to observe this more excellent way may result in men abusing women. Now for many conservative Christians this is just one more “roll your eyes” moment. This is the kind of thing that these ecclesiastical johnnies are always doing, all the time.

Sure. Exactly. But let’s describe this another way. Instead of dismissing it as one more example of pc-lunacy, what’s a more biblical way of describing a church in this condition? A more prophetic way? Luther used this kind of expression in his polemic against the ecclesiastical abuses of his day. Exactly. A church like this is a church in exile. Nothing is right; everything is screwed up; all the bones are out of joint.

The Church of England (in England, not Nigeria) is clearly in exile. I remember a hilarious episode of Yes, Prime Minister where the queen needed to recommend someone for a bishopric, and they were trying to find a suitable candidate who believed in God. There is a certain state of affairs necessary for this kind of satire to work, and we are into that state of affairs, up to our necks. So the Church of England is in exile.

But this means that in biblical parlance, her sins are not forgiven. And it won’t do at this point to retreat to our (much despised) individualism in order to point out that lots of Anglicans will go to heaven when they die, which is quite true. It is also quite beside the point because lots of Jews in the first century went to heaven when they died too, but that didn’t keep Israel from being in exile.

N.T. Wright as a scholar has many wonderful things to say about the text of Scripture. As a churchman, he appears to have a peculiar blindness to the mad-mitre state of affairs around him. But instead of individualists reacting to what he says that is plainly scriptural, we need to take what he points to in Scripture, and we need to be diligent to apply it. This is because Jesus came to embody a new way of being Israel. He came to establish a new way of being human. Jesus came in order make possible a new way of being Anglican.